Decades are interesting milestones. For one thing, they are rare in the course of a lifetime. For much of human history, the average person lived to see only three decades pass. Today, we might see, seven, eight, or even nine decades, but still that is only seven, eight, or nine events in the course of an entire life.
It is for this reason, I suppose, that decades are so often celebrated as major events. Even so, you can’t flip the calendar page without stirring some controversy. There will always be people who argue over when a decade actually begins and ends: Does the decade begin in 2020, or 2021?
If you are lucky, you were born on a decade boundary. It makes the math a lot easier. For instance, Isaac Asimov used January 2, 1920 as his birthday (having been born in a small town in Russia, he was never quite certain of the date). That makes it easy to figure that he would have been 100 years old on January 2, 2020. My grandfather was also born in 1920. I’m envious of people who are born in a century year: 1900, 2000, etc. It is impossible to forget how old you are if you were born on January 3, 2000, and today is January 3, 2020.
The first time I was consciously aware of the change of decades was in the fall of 1979. We had recently moved to New England, and there must have been buzz in the air because I remember thinking that soon, the 70s would be over and it would be 1980. I thought 1980 sounded very science-fictional.
By the time the next decade rolled around, I was getting ready to graduate from high school. I don’t recall as much of an internal drama about the change of decades at that point. But I do recall going to see L.A. Story–still one of my favorite movies–with my brother in the summer of 1990, before heading off to college. It was billed as “the first great comedy of the 1990s” so even the studios were riding the decade’s coattails.
The next decade was special, not just because it was a new decade, but a new millennium. There was no way that I could be unaware of the year 2000: a big part of my job in the 18 months leading up to that milestone decade was to make sure that the various computer systems that my company used would not be affected by the Y2K bug. On the evening of December 31, 1999, my company threw a big party and at midnight, the party suddenly paused as we all scampered about, making sure that all systems were still up and running.
What is remarkable about a decade is how much things can change between one decade and the next, In 1900, there were no airplanes but in 1910 there were enough planes flying to allow for the first mid-air collision. In 2000, I was trying to make sure the company computers weren’t going to crash, but in 2010, I was fawning over our 6-month old baby, who, yet another decade later, is suddenly 10-1/2 years old.
I graduated from high school in 1990, a nice even decade, making it easy to figure out that this year will be my 30th high school reunion. A friend recently pointed out that 2050 is the same distance in the future as 1990 is in the past.
I was lucky to have been born late enough in a century to allow my life to span across two centuries. I was born in the 1900s and have made it into the 2020s (so far!). It is unlikely I will see another century. But my youngest daughter, born in 2016, has a very good chance of watch the hoverball levitate down the facade of a building in Times Square as the clock counts down to yet another new decade, January 1, 2100.